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“Evolution of a Criminal,” Solitary Confinement Pt. 2, LAPD Community Guardians, and the Beneficiaries of Prop 47

August 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

Darius Clark Monroe was a 16-year-old honors student in Texas until he robbed a bank with a shotgun in a foolish attempt to bring his family out of extreme financial hardship.

In an award-winning PBS documentary, filmmaker Darius Monroe talks about the circumstances that led to his decision and asks his victims for forgiveness.

As a teenager, Darius says he did not think of the repercussions when he robbed the bank: the psychological harm done to the bank employees and customers present for the robbery, and the pain inflicted upon his tight-knit family and upon himself.

You can watch the whole documentary on PBS’ website until Sept. 11.


NEW MEXICO EXPERIMENTS WITH EFFORTS TO REDUCE USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN PRISONS

The second installment in a three-part NPR series on solitary confinement in US prisons takes a look at the prison system in New Mexico where officials are working to reverse the state’s overuse of isolation. New Mexico has made real progress: 6% of the prison population is in solitary confinement this year, compared with 10% in 2013. But as the numbers creep lower, the task becomes more challenging, says Gregg Marcantel, head of New Mexico’s prison system. (We pointed to the first here.)

Here’s a clip from Natasha Haverty’s story for NPR:

In New Mexico, many low-risk inmates were moved out of solitary. The men still housed in isolation can now earn their way out in nine months with good behavior. That’s still more time in solitary than most reform advocates and most mental health experts support, but not so long ago, New Mexico’s solitary unit was packed with inmates who were thrown into cells “and then we really had no clear-cut way to get them out of there,” says Gregg Marcantel, head of New Mexico’s prison system. He says when he came in as corrections secretary four years ago, that heavy reliance on solitary had been unquestioned for decades.

“It’s very, very easy to overuse segregation. I mean, for a guy like me it’s safe, right? It’s safe — if these prisons are quiet, I don’t get fired,” he says.

One of Marcantel’s new programs gives prisoners the chance to live in a more open group setting if they swear off their gang affiliations.

For corrections leaders like Marcantel trying to change the system, it’s a struggle to get it right. None of his reforms get rid of solitary. He says he can’t see it ever going away.

“But i­n a perfect world, one that maybe involves unicorns, yeah, I would love to get rid of it,” he says.

So far, New Mexico’s first steps toward change seem to be working. Two years ago, 10 percent of the state’s prison population was in solitary. That’s down to 6 percent this year.


LAPD: THE TRANSITION FROM “WARRIORS” TO “GUARDIANS”

The Los Angeles Police Department is conducting a series of five-hour training (or retraining) sessions in the wake of controversial officer-involved shootings in LA and across the nation.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather sat in on some of the LAPD training lectures, which emphasized replacing the “warrior” culture of the 70′s and 80′s with a mindset shift to “guardian” of communities. (WLA pointed to another story exploring this issue here.)

Here are some clips from Mathers’ story:

“We were warriors,” Deputy Chief Bill Scott recently told a room filled with LAPD rank-and-file officers, a group of fresh-faced rookies watching from the front.

Now, he said, officers need to think of themselves as guardians watching over communities — not warriors cracking down on them.

“That means if we’ve got to take somebody to jail, we’ll take them to jail,” Scott said. “But when we need to be empathetic and we need to be human, we’ve got to do that too.”

[SNIP]

The five-hour lectures in Los Angeles have covered matters such as the way officers should interact with people who are mentally ill, how they can build community trust, when they are permitted to curse while dealing with the public and why they should avoid walking with a swagger. Department brass emphasized that public perceptions of police can be influenced by the way officers treat residents during their daily work.

Scott warned one group assembled at a department pistol range that the brash attitudes some officers have — “I’m the cop, you’re not” — can appear disrespectful. “That’s one of the biggest problems that we have,” he said. “How we talk to people.”

In an Eastside auditorium, Deputy Chief Jose Perez told a crowd of Hollenbeck officers that just because department policy allowed them to curse at uncooperative suspects — the LAPD calls it “tactical language” — they shouldn’t automatically use foul language when walking up to someone.

“It doesn’t let you go up to them, when you’re getting out of the car, and you go: ‘Hey … come here,’” Perez said, using a profanity. “We use it because we have to, not because you can or because you want to.”

When and how officers should use force was another key focus. Police were reminded to be patient with people who may be mentally ill and to try to build a dialogue in an effort to avoid using force to take them into custody.

In one session, officers were implored to carry less-lethal devices such as a Taser or beanbag shotgun in their patrol cars, so the option is always available. The department does not require all officers to carry less-lethal devices.

Last week, the LA Times’ Patt Morrison interviewed Deputy Chief Bill Murphy on the evolution of training within the department. (WLA linked to it here.)


PROP 47 IS HELPING FORMER OFFENDERS BREAK FROM STIGMA OF FELONIES

During her 20s, Sholanda Jackson was incarcerated 13 times because of an addiction Sholanda’s mother sparked by giving her crack cocaine as a teenager.

A poster child for rehabilitation, Sholanda has now been sober 11 years, has a degree, and works at a non-profit.

Thanks to California’s Proposition 47, which reclassified certain non-serious felonies as misdemeanors, former offenders like Sholanda are receiving a second chance—one that will free them from the stigma of old felony convictions, and help them secure employment, as well as government assistance.

KQED’s Marisa Lagos has more on the issue, including the story of Sofala Mayfield, another former felon who received a second chance through Prop 47. Here’s a clip:

His life began to fall apart in his teens, after his grandmother suffered a stroke and his mother fell back into drug addiction. After a series of minor run-ins with the law as a teenager, he was convicted of felony theft two years ago for stealing an iPhone.

Mayfield has three younger siblings that live with him. But he said when he got out of jail, he couldn’t find a job.

“I didn’t get any calls back, I would call them back — our hiring manager’s not in, you know. I just had a feeling that’s what it was, just me having the felony on my record and stuff,” he said.

At the urging of his probation officer, Mayfield called the public defender’s office and asked if he would qualify to reduce his felony to a misdemeanor under Prop. 47. Within a month, a court had approved the change.

He now has two jobs, is helping support his family and hopes to go to culinary school.

“I was just very grateful,” he said.

Posted in juvenile justice, LAPD | No Comments »

Harm-Focused Policing, LAPD Training and Retraining, the Mayor of New Orleans, and Tom Carey’s Guilty Plea

August 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WEIGHING THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT CRIMES ON COMMUNITIES TO BETTER FOCUS POLICE ENERGY AND RESOURCES

In a paper published on Friday in the journal Ideas in American Policing, Temple University criminal justice professor Jerry Ratcliffe outlines the difference between a “crime and disorder” focused policing strategy and another method he calls “harm-focused policing,” which redirects police resources and strategies toward the detrimental effects of crime on a community

Targeting issues that affect poor minority communities, like substance abuse, emotional health, and gang recruitment would go beyond the symptoms to get at the “why” of the crimes.

Switching the focus would more accurately represent communities’ concerns, says Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal justice professor at Temple University and the paper’s author, and would help to change the relationship between cops and poor minority communities: “Where police can often see only crime and disorder, community experiences are more nuanced and diverse.”

While it can be difficult to quantify harm, the paper says there are ways to identify places and people that are especially harmful to communities.

Here’s a clip from the paper:

The range of community anxieties is often heartbreaking, ranging from the day-to-day incivilities that sap community cohesion, to concerns about root causes of crime, drugs, speeding traffic, environmental conditions, community dissolution and the harms associated with gang recruitment of young children. It is not uncommon to hear concerns about the lack of police attention to a neighborhood in the same meeting as complaints about the detrimental impacts of excessive and unfocused police attention on the wrong people. While there are correlations between increased police activity and lower neighborhood violence (see for example Koper & Mayo-Wilson, 2006; Ratcliffe, Taniguchi, Groff, & Wood, 2011), the negative consequences of repeated police contacts are now being more widely understood.

The paper also says the controversial practice of “stop, question, and frisk” (or “stop and frisk”) should be included in the harm index calculations as something that can hurt police-community relations:

The crime reduction benefits of increased pedestrian investigations (sometimes referred to in general as ‘stop, question and frisk’ [SQF]) remain a matter of some dispute (Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014), and the tactic itself remains highly controversial with the public concerned about both the disproportionate impact on minority communities and potential reduction in police legitimacy. Even Braga and Weisburd, two of the strongest advocates of hot spots policing, accept that ‘It seems likely that overly aggressive and indiscriminate police crackdowns would produce some undesirable effects’ (2010: 188).

Given the potential for harm stemming from unrestrained used of SQF, inclusion of a weighting for each pedestrian or vehicle investigative stop has a number of benefits. First, it acts as a constraint against unfocused and unrestricted use of SQF by over-eager police commanders desperate to reduce crime in a location. The right weighting3 would still sanction use of the tactic, but ideally encourage a focused and targeted application because each stop would count against the area’s harm index. In this way a calculation of cost-benefit ratio would determine if the anticipated crime and harm reduction benefits sufficiently offset any potential loss of police legitimacy and community support. Second, this would send a signal that the police are cognizant of the potential for pedestrian and vehicle investigative stops to impact police-community relations and that they are aware that some police tactics come with an associated cost. Third, having a price associated with investigative stops may generate improved data collection of stops, which will have a corollary benefit, allowing departments to better assess their vulnerability to accusations of racial profiling.


LAPD DEPUTY CHIEF WILLIAM MURPHY ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING, TRAINING, AND MORE TRAINING FOR OFFICERS

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, Deputy Chief William Murphy, who is the head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Police Sciences and Training Bureau, talked about how much LAPD training has evolved from a decade ago, how the Sandra Bland tragedy might have turned out differently, and how LA officers are taught to conduct traffic stops and mental health crisis calls.

Here’s a clip (but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):

What is the LAPD training for a traffic stop?

In the academy, before we teach anything, we ask, “Have you ever been stopped by the police?” Everybody’s hands go up. [They say] the officer was kind of rude. We say: “Remember that before we teach you how to do a traffic stop. What if it was your mother? Your sister? Is that how you’d want someone to treat them?”

In California, we teach an eight-step traffic stop. The first four are critical: The initial thing is the greeting — a smile, say, “Good morning, I’m Officer Bill Murphy of the LAPD.” When people ask for business cards, you give it to them — that’s our policy. When you do this [he points to his nameplate] and say, “This is me,” you’re just getting them mad.

Then you explain the reason for the stop. In some of these traffic stops that go south, they’ve left out some of these components. The goal of a traffic stop is to educate, not irritate. You pull somebody over for running a stop sign to have a conversation to change their behavior.

Watch the tapes and you notice officers — not from California — don’t ask [the driver], “Why would you do that?” I’ve had people tell me, “My wife’s at the hospital delivering my first baby” or “I just got fired today and my head’s not in the game.” You give them an opportunity to explain before you make a decision whether or not to write a ticket.

Then [as the last step], you say have a good day; you always end on a positive note.

The Sandra Bland traffic arrest apparently escalated when an officer got testy because she wouldn’t put out her cigarette; it ended with Bland allegedly hanging herself in a jail cell.

You have to think, is [the driver] a threat to you, or are you just irritated because they happen to be having a cigarette? If you think they’re really a threat, that’s a different situation. I’ve gotten pulled over, and as a police officer, my heart still races. [Bland was] probably just nervous, smoking her cigarette.

We teach don’t be the “contempt of cop” cop. Usually, you get contempt of cop when your emotions take over, when the goal becomes something other than educating, like, “You’re not respecting my authority.”

We’re lucky: About 98% of our police vehicles are two-person. If the [first officer] for whatever reason isn’t making that connection and it’s getting heated, we tell them to switch roles right away. Say, “Hey, partner, let me take this over,” as opposed to getting into a confrontation.

I was asked about the video of the Cincinnati incident [a campus police officer shot an unarmed man during a traffic stop; the officer has been indicted for murder]. You need to control your emotions and stress level so you don’t overreact. When you overreact, you can see a threat that’s really not there.


NEW ORLEANS’ MAYOR IS ON A CAMPAIGN AGAINST VIOLENCE IN POOR BLACK COMMUNITIES

The Altantic’s Jeffery Goldberg has a great longread about New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who is on a crusade to cut down on the level of homicides in his city. Landrieu’s particular focus is on the “epidemic of young African American men killing young African American men.”

One of Mayor Landrieu’s innovative violence diversion programs, NOLA for Life, initiates “call-ins” where around 20 men between the ages of 16-24 who are likely to shoot or be shot, and who have had contact with the justice system, are called into court without explanation.

Landrieu addresses the gathered boys and young men, who are either doing a short stint in jail or are on probation, and introduces two groups of people who have come to speak with them and help them—on one side, representatives from every local and federal law enforcement agency, on the other, social workers and counselors ready to help the attendees and connect them with services and resources.

Landrieu tells the young men gathered in front of him, that if they leave the courthouse and make wrong choices they will have further contact with the law enforcement agencies in attendance, but if they choose correctly, Landrieu says, “I’ll make a commitment to you that you’re going to go to the front of the line: if you need a job, if you need mental-health, substance-abuse counseling, if you say you need something, the folks on this side of the room will listen to you, talk to you, help you.”

NOLA for Life also features mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and job training. And teams of counselors, including former gang members, are dispatched to ERs to convince family members of shooting victims not to seek revenge.

“i want people to tell me whether or not they think that the lives of poor young African American men that live in certain communities in every city—whether their lives matter…that’s all I want to know: that the answer to that is ‘yes’.”

Here’s a clip:

“It’s a roll of the dice. People get out of Central City, they do,” Landrieu told me recently. “But many don’t. If life had gone differently for Joseph Norfleet and James Darby, who knows? Joseph Norfleet could have been that 9-year-old victim. Maybe Joseph Norfleet would be dead and James Darby would be in prison today. We see this so often—today’s shooter is tomorrow’s victim.”

The prison [Angola], 130 miles from New Orleans, could legitimately be considered the city’s most distant neighborhood. Of the roughly 6,300 men currently imprisoned at Angola—three-quarters of them there for life, and nearly 80 percent of them African American—about 2,000 at any given moment are from New Orleans. Thousands of children in New Orleans—a city whose population today is roughly 380,000—have fathers who will reside until death in Angola.

“This place will bring you to your knees,” Landrieu said.

Why?

“What you’re going to see is a huge governing failure on the part of our society. This country has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. That’s failure.”

Landrieu visits Angola on occasion to learn more about a crisis that has come to consume him. He decided, early in his first term, to devote the resources of his city to solving one of this country’s most diabolical challenges—the persistence of homicide in poor African American communities. The numbers are staggering. From 1980 to 2013, 262,000 black males were killed in America. By contrast, roughly 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. In New Orleans, about 6,000 African American men have been murdered since 1980. The killers of these men were, in the vast majority of cases, other African American men. In New Orleans, 80 percent of murder victims are believed to have known their killer.

[SNIP]

As we drove to Angola, I asked Landrieu why he has made homicide—a seemingly ineradicable disease in a gun-saturated country whose popular culture glorifies violence—his chief priority.

“I didn’t grab this. This problem grabbed me,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m obsessed with it. I don’t understand why it’s okay in America—a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world, a place with more wealth than anywhere else—for us to leave so many of our citizens basically dead. Why do we allow our citizens to kill each other as if it’s the cost of doing business? We have basically given up on our African American boys. I’d be a cold son of a bitch if I ignored it, if I just focused on the other side of town, or focused just on tourism.

“I’m absolutely certain we have the money and the capacity to solve this problem, but we do not have the will. This problem doesn’t touch enough Americans to rise to the level of a national crisis. But these are all our children. I’m embarrassed by it. How could this be normal?”


FORMER LASD CAPTAIN TOM CAREY’S OFFICIAL GUILTY PLEA, AND WHY FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA SHOULD WORRY

On Wednesday, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Captain William “Tom” Carey officially changed his plea to guilty in the obstruction of justice trial involving the hiding of a federal informant from the FBI.

Standing before US District Judge Percy Anderson, Carey pled guilty to one count of perjury. In exchange, three separate charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and another count of lying on the witness stand, are to be dismissed.

In return, Carey will have to fully cooperate with the feds and provide testimony in related trials, including that of his co-defendant, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and that of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who has not been indicted, but may be federal prosecutors’ next target.

ABC7′s Miriam Hernandez and Lisa Bartley were there in court and have the story. Here are some clips:

Former Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca might be getting nervous right about now.

Retired Captain William “Tom” Carey, 57, officially changed his plea to guilty on Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official to flip in the years-long federal investigation.

“Guilty,” Carey stated under oath as he stood before Judge Percy Anderson alongside his defense attorney Andrew Stolper.

Carey cut a deal with prosecutors that requires total cooperation with law enforcement as they forge ahead in their investigation of corruption and inmate abuse inside county jails, which are run by the LASD.

Speculation is growing that Baca, who abruptly resigned in January 2014, could be in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.

“We’ve seen in the investigation of this case that the prosecution has been trying to go as high as they can, even to the sheriff himself,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor.

Carey’s co-defendant, former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, goes on trial this November for his alleged role in the scheme to block the FBI investigation.

[SNIP]

Carey’s plea deal means that three felony counts — obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of making false statements — will be dismissed.

Carey pleaded guilty to one count of making another false statement, which points to what prosecutors say was the true motivation for hiding Brown from the FBI.

At the trial of Deputy James Sexton in May 2014, Carey testified that there was no other reason to move Brown other than for his own safety.

Carey now admits that was a lie because he “knew that the deputies ordered to stand guard over Inmate AB during this time were there, at least in part, so that the FBI could not have access to Inmate AB unless there was an order from co-defendant Tanaka or another LASD executive that would have allowed access.”

Carey’s cooperation agreement means he is likely to testify against Tanaka at his upcoming trial, although defense attorneys are sure to attack Carey’s credibility now that he’s admitted to previously lying on the witness stand.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca, Violence Prevention | 29 Comments »

Watts Riots 50th Anniversary News Roundup….Are Crime Rates Really Rising?….and Coroner’s Inquests

August 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

JOURNALISTS, AUTHORS, ACTIVISTS, AND RESIDENTS REMEMBER THE WATTS RIOTS

As America marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots this week, here are some stories we didn’t want you to miss:

Veteran TV journalist Tom Brokaw, who covered the aftermath of the Watts riots 50 years ago for NBC, says positive changes have taken place in the neighborhood, including community policing efforts, but Watts is still very much “separate and unequal.”

The LA Times has a ton of worthwhile coverage (more than twenty stories, so far) of the anniversary, including an interview with one of the few black cops in LAPD before and during the riots, quotes dug up from the LA Times’ 1965 archives, the story of Noah Purifoy’s art made from the charred wreckage of Watts, what the ’65 LA Times editorial board had to say about the six days of rioting that left 34 people dead.

Fifty years later, the 2015 editorial board takes a look at what lessons LA has (and hasn’t) learned since then. (Read more of what today’s editorial board has to say about Watts—here and here.)

The Times also compiled a list of essential literature born of the Watts riots, featuring: “A Journey Into the Mind of Watts” by Thomas Pynchon, “The New Centurions” by 1960′s LAPD officer Joseph Wambaugh, and one of our favorites at WLA, the mystery, “Little Scarlet,” by Walter Mosley.

Mosley, who was twelve years old in 1965, shares his memories of the riots in an NPR interview. Here’s a clip:

MONTAGNE: Walter Mosley went on to create the classic character Detective Easy Rawlins in a series of noir novels set in Watts. In 1965, Mosley was 12 years old and a member of an acting troupe that performed plays about civil rights, which is how he found himself in the middle of what some called an uprising.

MOSLEY: The main night of that riot, the apex of the riot, we went down to the little theater on Santa Barbara, now called Martin Luther King, to do our play. But nobody came because, you know, people were rioting. So either they were rioting or they were in their houses hiding from rioting. And we had to drive out. And driving out, we drove through the riots.

MONTAGNE: Do you remember what you saw? I mean, were you scared?

MOSLEY: I was scared, you know, because, number one, it was an interracial group, so, you know, there were a couple of white people in the car. And they were, like, on the floor. And – you know, and then you would see things – you know, people jumping out of windows, you know, like – you know, they were looting. I saw one guy just lying out on the street. I don’t know what happened to him. The police were driving by, four deep in a car with their shotguns held up, but they weren’t shooting. They were just passing through.

You could feel the rage. You know, you could feel that civilization, at that moment, was in tatters. And when I got home, my father was sitting in a chair in the living room, which he never did, drinking vodka and just staring. And I said, Dad, what’s wrong?

Go listen to the rest.

Another LA author and activist, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, talks about what he saw and experienced as an 18-year-old during the riots and what has changed since 1965.

And until the 17th (the end of the riots), you can experience a unconventional live-tweet reenactment of the deadly week-long upheaval by @WattsRiots50.


BRENNAN CENTER: THE U.S. IS STILL SEEING A DOWNWARD CRIME TREND, DESPITE RECENT, WIDELY REPORTED UPTICKS IN CRIME RATES

In the midst of much media attention on crime spikes in states across the US, the Brennan Center for Justice’s Matthew Friedman says the recent crime rate upswings are still part of a longterm downward trend.

LA, NYC, Chicago, DC, and other big cities have recorded higher crime stats over the past few months. And there are many different theories as to what’s behind the changes.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell blamed the higher crime rate on the passage and implementation of Prop 47—which reclassified certain low-level felonies as misdemeanors.

And during LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s State of the City address in April, he announced a new elite metro unit would patrol crime hotspots in response to a rise in violent crime rates during the first part of 2015 in Los Angeles.

Friedman says that instead of focusing on short-term fluctuations, it’s important to take a step back, and look at the prevailing trend over a period of years, rather than months.

Even a cursory study of murder totals over the past two decades shows a clear downward trend in the number of murders committed in America’s three largest cities. A “trend” indicates the general direction something moves towards. The red lines in the graphs show that the long-term trend is toward fewer homicides in all three cities.

This same trend appears in most major cities across the country.

This does not mean that crime is always decreasing in these cities; in fact you can see areas of all three graphs where crime levels rapidly increase (and rapidly decrease) over short periods of time. These fluctuations are a combination of normal seasonal cycles and random events known technically as ‘noise’. Noise denotes the transient increases and decreases attributable to happen-stance or short-run shocks, but unrelated to the long-run pattern of decreasing murder levels.

Compare New York’s annual murder totals and Chicago’s monthly totals. Both exhibit the same long-term trend: a decreasing number of murders. Also note, however, that the longer time interval used to describe New York’s homicide totals generates a smoother graph that closely tracks the trend line and is almost uniformly decreasing — making it very easy to identify that city’s crime decline. On the other hand, Chicago’s graph exhibits wild fluctuations from season to season (this is known as seasonality). Monthly totals are a great way to display homicide data if you want to understand how solstice patterns impact murder rates, but it also amplifies the cyclical and noise components of Chicago’s homicide totals — making it harder to distinguish the underlying trend.

Friedman compares the crime statistics to LeBron James’ inconsistent free-throw success rate from game-to-game between January and March of this year.

…in 14 games over three months, James’ free-throw percentage increased or decreased by more than 20 percent relative to his previous outing. In multiple instances his shooting acuity fell by half from game to game. In another, it more than doubled. To assume those spikes tell us anything about James’ basketball skills would be foolish — they are just noise.

Similarly, from day to day, month to month, or year to year, crime may rise or fall due to seasonality and noise. Only by observing these changes over a sufficient period of time can we see a trend emerge. The difficulty is figuring out how many observations are necessary to cut through the noise and show us the true trend.


CONSIDERING CORONER’S PUBLIC INQUESTS AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO GRAND JURIES

Legal experts and public officials are discussing the viability of the coroner’s inquest model as an alternative to the closed-door grand jury system, as a way to promote transparency and ease tension between communities and the police after a questionable death.

Coroner’s inquests are public inquiries to determine details of a death: how and why a person was killed.

During an inquest, witnesses give testimony, but suspects don’t defend themselves, unless the coroner’s jury verdict leads local prosecutors to indict those involved.

Coroners’ inquests crop up here and there across the nation under special circumstances, but only in Montana are coroners actually required to perform an inquest after an officer-involved shooting.

The killing of 34 people during the Watts riots 50 years ago resulted in a burst of coroner’s inquests, but Los Angeles hasn’t seen an inquest in over three decades. The last coroner’s inquest in Los Angeles was held in 1981. Current LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark Fajardo said he considered initiating an inquest into the death of Ezell Ford, a unarmed mentally ill man shot by LAPD officers last year, but chose not to without carefully reviewing the process.

The LA Times’ Doug Smith has more on the issue, as well as the history of the inquest in LA. Here are some clips:

At the urging of County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark A. Fajardo, who reviewed all police shootings in his job as Riverside County coroner, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has asked key agency heads to rethink the review process with an eye to increasing transparency.

Fajardo, who became L.A.’s coroner in 2013, said he found it “troubling” that the office had no review procedures.

“I think the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner should have a process that assures quality, assures efficiency and is transparent in some respect,” Fajardo said.

He said he considered calling an inquest into the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford last year, but held back because he hadn’t fully vetted the process. The county is still reviewing various options.

Some municipalities, like Clark County, NV, have successfully implemented updated versions of the inquest model.

Clark County, Nev., dropped its automatic coroner’s inquest process in 2010 after the police union successfully challenged it in court.

In its place, county commissioners set up a system that achieves some transparency at the expense of immediacy.

After every killing by police, if the district attorney finds no cause to prosecute — which has almost always been the case — the county manager convenes a hearing to examine the evidence in public. The prosecutor calls witnesses, primarily the officers who investigated the slaying. A hearing officer and ombudsman, both appointed by the county manager, can call and question witnesses in a cross-examination format, but not under oath. The officers involved in the killing do not testify.

Anyone attending the hearing can submit questions to the hearing officer or ombudsman, who is appointed to represent the public and the deceased’s family. The whole proceeding is live-streamed on the county TV station and the videos are posted on the county manager’s website.

No findings are made. “It simply concludes,” said Robert Daskas, the deputy who oversees the district attorney’s response team.

There are critics, among them the Nevada ACLU, who say the new process is toothless. But Daskas credits it for easing the tension surrounding troubling events.

“We all see the protests and the riots,” Daskas said. “I would like to think that one of the reasons we have not had issues like that in Clark County is because we provide a very transparent review of officer-involved shootings.”

MacMahon, the English economist who has studied America’s inquest tradition, finds the Clark County process an admirable compromise. He argues that it is the very toothlessness of such reviews that give them the healing power that he calls “soft adjudication,” a hearing process that is investigatory, rather than adversarial, and non-binding.

“Precisely because their verdicts do not carry binding or coercive consequences…inquests can aim more squarely than other legal proceedings at establishing the truth about a contested event,” MacMahon writes in his article.


The Watts riots news roundup was updated August 14, at 7:30p.m.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, LASD, literature, media, race | No Comments »

BLUE: Joe Domanick Writes About Saving the LAPD & the Crossroads of American Policing

August 10th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Award-winning journalist and author Joe Domanick has been a long time critic of bad policing,
particularly when it has been displayed by the Los Angeles Police Department. His fascination with—and in many ways, affection for—LA’s complicated, powerful, historically brutal and arrogant, yet often innovative and iconic police department brought us To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War in the City of Dreams—a deeply researched, and immensely engaging history of the agency’s first 100 years, which won its author a 1995 Edgar award for best fact-based crime.

Now Domanick has written a new book about LA’s cop shop called Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing. Stupendously timely and written with a finely calibrated understanding of the city’s history, and its unique cultural interweave, BLUE’s page-turning narrative is borne aloft by a string of vivid nonfiction characters, including, of course, the agency’s most recent chiefs, Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck. But, while the heart of the book is a grand tale of the multi-layered struggle to reform the LAPD, Domanick also uses LA’s police department as a lens through which to examine the state of U.S. policing in general, and the crossroads at which it has presently arrived.

We will talk more about Domanick and Blue in the near future. But, in the meantime, here are a couple of clips from the rave review of Domanick’s book by Mark Horowitz, the staff editor for The New York Times Op-Ed section, which appeared in Sunday’s NYT Book Review.

…Crime in Los Angeles had been increasing at twice the national average. Between 1980 and 2000, there were 11,500 gang-related homicides in Los Angeles County. “L.A.’s gangs were not simply growing but metastasizing.”

The city’s incompetent and brutal police functioned like “an army of occupation that waged war on the residents of black South L.A., Mexican East L.A. and Central American Pico-Union in the name of crime suppression.” During one operation, in South Los Angeles, 25,000 were arrested, though relatively few were charged with any crime. “It seems astounding,” Domanick writes, “that such a plan of concentrated, indiscriminate mass arrests would be executed in a major, liberal American city a quarter of a century into the post-civil-rights era.” Even the police dogs were out of control, surely a metaphor of some kind. Between 1989 and 1992, they bit 900 people, resulting in countless lawsuits.

Domanick is steeped in his city’s rich history, its fraught racial and ethnic conflicts and the complex demographics that befuddle so many outsiders. I lived there in the ’80s and ’90s, during recessions, earthquakes, the Rodney King beating and the ’92 riots: Domanick gets everything right. His brief portrait of the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial, for example, is a valuable corrective. O.J.’s lawyer Johnnie Cochran was no racial show boater, though the national media treated him like some sort of West Coast Al Sharpton. Cochran was a brilliant and highly respected local attorney who made his reputation trying police-abuse cases. “He knew what black jurors knew deep in their bones,” Domanick writes, “that racism, planting evidence, shading the truth and lying in court had been part of the Los Angeles Police Department’s modus operandi throughout its history.” The trial was always about the dysfunctional L.A.P.D., never O.J.

Validating Cochran, the decade climaxed with the infamous Rampart Division scandal. Officers were discovered to be routinely framing people, robbing and shooting them, planting evidence and stealing drugs. How long it had been going on or how many other units were involved, nobody ever knew. There was no in-depth probe. The department proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was incapable of policing itself.

Enter Bratton.

More soon.


I DON’T WANT TO DIE TOO YOUNGGGGG!

And in other news, the FBI will participate in the investigation into the death of an unarmed black Texas college football player, Christian Taylor, who was fatally shot by a rookie Arlington, Texas, police officer during a burglary call at an Arlington car dealership. The officer had yet to complete his field training.

A video shows Taylor behaving erratically at the dealership before the shooting.

Meanwhile the well-liked college student’s twitter feed, which showed a repeated concern about social justice in general and police violence specifically, went viral, particularly his now famous tweet that reads: I don’t wanna die too younggggg

Posted in LAPD, writers and writing | 24 Comments »

A Ride Home, Fresno’s Restorative Justice, $$ Spent on Misconduct in Biggest Police Departments, and Obama Visits Prison

July 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

THE ANTI-RECIDIVISM COALITION’S ROBY SO & CARLOS CERVANTES GIVE MEN LEAVING PRISON A RIDE HOME & HELP THEM ACCLIMATE

Carlos Cervantes and Roby So, members of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), pick up men newly released former third-strikers from prison to help them through their often overwhelming first day on the outside.

Through their Ride Home Program, Carlos and Roby, who spent 11 and 12 years in prison themselves, often travel hours to meet people exiting prison, to help them acclimate and bring them up-to-date on what they missed while they were locked up.

When men and women come out of lock-up, they are often given just $200 to start over with, and if they don’t have family waiting to meet them, they have to navigate the unfamiliar alone.

NY Times’ Jon Mooallem has a great longread (and documentary video) on Carlos and Roby and their Ride Home program. Here are some clips:

Unlike typical parolees, third-strikers are often notified of their release just before it happens, sometimes only a day in advance. (It can take months for a judge to rule after papers are filed.) They’re usually sent out the door with $200, a not-insubstantial share of which they often pay back to the prison for a lift to the nearest Greyhound station: An inmate might be released from a prison outside Sacramento and expected to find his way to a parole officer in San Diego, 500 miles away, within 48 hours. Stanford’s Three Strikes Project was setting up transitional housing for its clients, but initially, a lot of the third-strikers weren’t making it there — they were just blowing away in the wind. Then, Carlos and Roby started driving around the state and waiting outside to catch them.

The job started as a simple delivery service, to carry some of these discombobulated bodies from one place to another. In late 2013, the director of the Three Strikes Project, Michael Romano, contacted a nonprofit called the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which has built up a close community of formerly incarcerated people in Los Angeles. (Romano, who is also an A.R.C. board member, is a friend of mine.) Romano asked if A.R.C. could dispatch one of its members to pick up third-strikers and drive them to their housing near the Staples Center in Los Angeles. A.R.C. recommended Carlos, a dependable young man just three years out of prison himself, who — most important — also had his own car and a credit card to front money for gas. Carlos was hired, for $12 an hour, to fetch an old man named Terry Critton from a prison in Chino. On the way back, Critton asked if Carlos wouldn’t mind stopping at Amoeba Records, so he could look at jazz LPs — he’d been a big collector. They wound up spending almost two hours in the store, just looking. Then, Critton wanted a patty melt, so Carlos found a place called Flooky’s, where they ordered two and caught the end of a Dodgers game. It was extraordinary: All day, Carlos could see this man coming back to life. He wanted to do more pickups, and he wanted to get his friend Roby involved. He told his bosses he needed a partner.

By now, Carlos and Roby — officially, A.R.C.’s Ride Home Program — have done about three dozen pickups, either together or individually, waking up long before dawn and driving for hours toward prison towns deep in the desert or up the coast. Then they spend all day with the guy (so far they’ve picked up only men), taking him to eat, buying him some clothes, advising him, swapping stories, dialing his family on their cellphones or astonishing him by magically calling up Facebook pictures of nieces and nephews he’s never met — or just sitting quietly, to let him depressurize. The conversation with those shellshocked total strangers doesn’t always flow, Roby told me. It helps to have a wingman.

‘‘The first day is everything,’’ Carlos says — a barrage of insignificant-seeming experiences with potentially big consequences. Consider, for example, a friend of his and Roby’s: Julio Acosta, who was paroled in 2013 after 23 years inside. Acosta describes stopping for breakfast near the prison that first morning as if it were a horrifying fever dream: He kept looking around the restaurant for a sniper, as in the chow hall in prison, and couldn’t stop gawking at the metal knives and forks, ‘‘like an Aztec looking at Cortez’s helmet,’’ he says. It wasn’t until he got up from the booth and walked to the men’s room, and a man came out the door and said, ‘‘How you doin’?’’ and Acosta said, ‘‘Fine,’’ that Acosta began to feel, even slightly, like a legitimate part of the environment around him. He’d accomplished something. He’d made a treacherous trip across an International House of Pancakes. He’d peed.

But what if Acosta had accidentally bumped into a waitress, knocking over her tray and shattering dishes? What if that man had glared at him, instead of greeting him, or snapped at him to get the hell out of the way? Ann Jacobs, director of the Prisoner Re-entry Institute at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told me that even the smallest bungled interactions on the outside leave recently incarcerated people feeling ‘‘like they’re being exposed, like they’re incompetent. It’s feeding into their worst fear, their perception of themselves as an impostor who’s incapable of living a normal life.’’ Carlos and Roby have learned to steer their guys through that perilous newness — and to be nonchalant about it, to make the sudden enormity of life feel unthreatening, even fun. On one ride home earlier this year, I watched a third-striker venture inside a convenience store, alone, to buy a candy bar while Roby pumped gas. The man seemed emboldened after a few hours of freedom, actually hopping a bit as he walked. But then he tripped over the curb and tumbled forward, arms thrashing, nearly face-planting in front of the door. Roby just shrugged and said, ‘‘Well, you’ve got to get that one out of the way.’’

‘‘Been a long time since I looked at a menu,’’ Dale Hammock said. He was sheltered in a corner of a booth at a Denny’s near the prison. The restaurant was overcrowded, loud and full of the kind of hyperdifferentiated nonsense that ordinary Americans swim through every day, never assuming it can or should be fully understood. But Hammock was having trouble sorting the breakfast menu from the lunch menu, and the regular Denny’s menu from the Denny’s Skillets Across America limited-time menu. There were two kinds of hot sauce and four different sweeteners on the table. On the Heinz ketchup bottle, it said: ‘‘Up for a Game? Trivial Pursuit Tomato Ketchup.’’

The first meal after a long prison sentence is an ostensible celebration laced with stress. The food tastes incredible. (Roby gained 60 pounds after his release, desperate to try the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion and other fast-casual delicacies he’d seen commercials for on TV.) But ordering — making any choice — can be unnerving. Waiters are intimidating; waitresses, especially pretty ones, can be petrifying. So at Denny’s, Roby started things off, ordering a chocolate milk. Hammock ordered a chocolate milk, too. Then he reconsidered and said: ‘‘I want a milkshake! I’ll just have that!’’ He ordered a Grand Slam. Then he changed it to a Lumberjack Slam. And when the waiter shot back with ‘‘Toast: white, wheat or sourdough?’’ Hammock went stiff momentarily, then answered: ‘‘Toast, I guess.’’


KEEPING KIDS IN SCHOOL (AND AWAY FROM THE JUSTICE SYSTEM) IN FRESNO

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Lisa Jenkins looks at efforts in California to steer kids away from the juvenile justice system, with a particular focus on the Keeping Kids in School Project and the Victim Offender Reconciliation program (VORP), an important part of the restorative justice efforts in Fresno schools. Here’s a clip:

The 2013 KKIS conference was the first concrete step in changing the tone of the conversation around truancy. At the core of the 2013 conference was a recognition that students need to be physically in school in order to receive the state’s educational services. Being deprived of these services, as inevitably happens when one is chronically absent, has been tied to other problems; research presenters at the conference utilized statewide data showing a direct link between missing school, suspension from school and ultimately dropping out.

Making this link clear to parents, guardians and other stakeholders is the most important part of the work that KKIS is doing, said Gordon Jackson, director of the coordinated student support division in the California Department of Education, in a phone interview.

“Of course, all across the span of economics or earned income, there is this common thread among parents of wanting good things to happen for their kids,” Jackson said. “There is really a focus on the challenge of catching students early, before they develop truancy patterns, and involving the parents.”

This idea has been taken to heart in Fresno County, where the regional KKIS focus group and other stakeholders are working to improve academic performance of elementary and middle school students in order to prevent their eventual court-system involvement. This means targeting those with complicated home situations, and even creating personalized plans for how students will get to school. There is a particular focus on literacy, as studies have shown that students with strong reading engagement experience less absenteeism.

According to education specialists, one promising solution to this excessive absenteeism (and to numerous other justice questions) is a coordinated system of restorative justice.

Restorative justice programs involve two crucial components: a discussion among those involved with the crime or truancy, and a concrete plan for rectifying the situation. The oldest such program in the state, VORP of the Central Valley, was founded in 1982 by Ron and Roxanne Claasen, but has only relatively recently gained the momentum to become a part of the local juvenile justice vocabulary.

For the Claasens, who also founded the Discipline That Restores program at Fresno Pacific University, these techniques are an important part of getting students to reconnect with their school communities. After involvement with restorative justice techniques, VORP estimates that eight of every ten juvenile offenders successfully move on from crime and return to school. Instituted across school districts, these results are significant; when comparable California communities have instituted district-wide restorative justice policies, they have cut suspensions by up to 60 percent in just five years.


WHAT THE CITIES WITH THE BIGGEST POLICE FORCES PAY FOR MISCONDUCT SETTLEMENTS & COURT JUDGMENTS

The ten cities with the largest police departments paid out a total of $248.7 million last year in officer misconduct settlements and court judgments. That number is up 48% from 2010′s grand total of $168.3 million. Between those five years the ten cities paid out a combined $1.02 billion. New York City was responsible for a whopping $601.3 million, more than half of that 2010-2014 grand total. In comparison, Los Angeles, while still among the top three cities that spent the most, had a five year total of $57.1 million.

Los Angeles, Baltimore, Phoenix, unlike the other seven cities, experienced a decline in payout amounts between 2010-2014. And in LA, 39% of payout dollars were spent on misconduct cases. In Chicago, misconduct cases accounted for 89% of the total.

The Wall Street Journal’s Zusha Elinson and Dan Frosh have more on the numbers.

Cities are cutting more checks to people who were wrongfully imprisoned years ago because of police misconduct. As more wrongful convictions come to light, jury verdicts have risen, with some now exceeding $2 million a year behind bars.

New York City agreed last year to pay $41 million to five black and Hispanic men imprisoned for the 1989 beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park, then freed after another man confessed and DNA evidence confirmed his story. City lawyers under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had fought a lawsuit brought by the five men, which alleged that detectives coerced confessions from them as teens. Under current Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city agreed to a settlement equal to about $1 million for each year each man spent behind bars.

New York City Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter said the settlement “should not be construed as an acknowledgment that the convictions of these five plaintiffs were the result of law-enforcement misconduct.”

Chicago has been trying to resolve cases stemming from allegations that detectives, led by former commander Jon Burge, tortured black and Hispanic suspects with implements like electric cattle prods, coercing confessions from them and putting them behind bars from the 1970s to early 1990s for crimes they didn’t commit. Those cases have cost the city more than $60 million in payouts. In May, Chicago launched a $5.5 million reparations fund for some of the victims.

A Chicago police spokesman called Mr. Burge’s actions a “disgrace.” Mr. Burge was convicted of federal perjury and obstruction charges in 2010. Mr. Burge, who has been released from prison, declined to comment.

In New York, settlements and judgments in misconduct cases hit $165 million in fiscal 2014, up from $93.8 million in 2010. Both New York and Los Angeles, which paid out $10.7 million on such cases last year, now are tracking claims more closely and trying new approaches to risk management.

New York City’s government-run hospitals were for years the city’s leading source of liability payouts, primarily because of medical-malpractice settlements. But beginning in the 2010 fiscal year, the police department surpassed the city hospitals in total liability payouts.

The trend caught the attention of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who launched a program to track legal claims called ClaimStat. “Instead of accepting rising claims and settlements as the cost of doing business,” Mr. Stringer says, the city can use the data to identify underlying problems and make changes to prevent future suits.

The number of new claims filed against New York City police, including allegations of police misconduct and damage from car crashes, rose 71% between 2004 and 2013, according to the comptroller.

“While the filing of a lawsuit does not prove any misconduct on the part of an officer, the department is aware of the increasing number of actions filed against the NYPD,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the department is “addressing these very real concerns” with the creation of a risk-management bureau and police litigation unit.

The settlement with Mr. Garner’s estate came nearly a year after his confrontation with officers who accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes—a scene captured in a widely viewed video. Mr. Stringer said the settlement “acknowledges the tragic nature of Mr. Garner’s death while balancing my office’s fiscal responsibility to the city.”


OBAMA GOES TO PRISON

On Thursday, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. NPR’s Scott Horsley has the story on the president’s visit.

Posted in LAPD, Obama, Reentry, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

Private Prison Medicine, Foster Care Benefits for Dual Status Kids, Presidential Pot Pardons, Sheriff Jim McDonnell on WWLA? …and More

July 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WHEN FOR-PROFIT CORPORATIONS TAKE OVER PRISON HEALTH CARE INMATE MORTALITY RATES RISE

The private medical company, California Forensic Medical Group, is the largest prison health care provider in CA. And, not unlike the largest prison health care company in the nation, Corizon Correctional Health Care, CFMG continues to rake in money despite being mired in scandals and lawsuits alleging mistreatment, neglect, and short-staffing.

CFMG holds medical care contracts for 64 detention facilities in 27 of California’s 58 counties. Most of the counties are rural, like Imperial and Yolo, but CFMG is also responsible for thousands of inmates in counties like San Diego, Ventura, Santa Cruz, and it’s hometown, Monterey.

Around 200 inmates have died in the last decade under CFMG medical care, and more than 80 lawsuits have been filed against the company in the last 15 years, according to an investigation by FairWarning.

FairWarning’s Brian Joseph takes an in depth look at CMFG’s history (which is not unlike many other private prison companies), as well as the stories of inmates who died seemingly preventable deaths while under the care of CFMG. Here are some clips:

The outsourcing of medical care in jails and prisons reflects a nationwide push for privatizing government duties. The private sector, outsourcing advocates say, offers better services at a lower cost. But while other government services have outspoken constituencies, jails and prisons do not. Inmates usually have little clout to demand change if they believe they are receiving poor health care.

“Society doesn’t really care about prisoners,” said Neville Johnson, a Beverly Hills lawyer. Johnson sued CFMG and Yolo County, near Sacramento, over the August 2000 jailhouse suicide of Stephen Achen. A drug addict, Achen warned some jail staffers that he could become self-destructive but promised another that he wouldn’t hurt himself. “As we got into it, we were astonished at what we felt [was] the deliberate indifference of the jail staff and especially CFMG, which is nothing but a money-making machine,” Johnson said. CFMG settled with the Achen family for $825,000 after a judge found evidence of medical understaffing, according to media reports.

The private sector started providing health services to jails and prisons in the 1970s, when negligent medical care became a foremost prisoners’ rights issue. Inmates across the country filed lawsuits alleging inadequate care. Courts ruled that depriving prisoners of competent medical services was unconstitutional and in some cases ordered states and counties to take corrective action. Wardens and sheriffs, lacking backgrounds in medicine, turned to outside contractors for help.

[SNIP]

Ryan George, age 22, was serving time for domestic violence in 2007 when he experienced the onset of a sickle cell crisis, a painful, but treatable, condition where blood vessels become clogged by the misshapen cells. For days, Valerie says, Ryan called her from jail in obvious pain, complaining that he was being neglected.

Finally, when he was found “unresponsive” in his bed, Ryan was taken to the hospital, according to court records. But after a couple of days, of treatment, doctors there decided Ryan was exaggerating some of his symptoms and sent him back to jail. Shortly thereafter, Valerie said, a CFMG doctor called her, saying Ryan was getting worse. She says she demanded that the doctor take him to the hospital, but he said “that’s not a possibility.”

The company doctor acknowledged in court papers that he spoke with Valerie George, but disputed her version of what was said. CFMG executives also acknowledged that the company would have incurred more costs if Ryan was sent back to the hospital, but denied that financial concerns had anything to do with his death.

A few days later, Ryan George was found dead in his cell, with dark green fluid oozing from his mouth and eyes, according to the civil complaint. A subsequent Sonoma County Grand Jury investigation found that the “Sheriff’s (department) and CFMG medical staff failed to fully intervene” when Ryan’s condition worsened. “He was not re-hospitalized, despite exhibiting symptoms of jaundice, severe dehydration, bone pain, altered level of consciousness and loss of urinary and bowel control,” the grand jury found. Said Valerie George, whose family settled with CFMG: “They let him die like a dog in a cage because this company would not pay for him to get proper medical treatment.”

[SNIP]

“Why wasn’t an ambulance called?” a guard later recalled someone asking when he wheeled a pale Dau into El Centro Regional Medical Center at about 9:30 a.m. on July 23, 2011. A doctor rushed to her side and felt her neck. “She has no pulse!” the doctor yelled, according to a deposition given later by the physician. Hospital staff cut off her jumpsuit and attempted CPR, but it was no use: at 9:56 a.m. Dau was declared dead.

A subsequent autopsy by Imperial County Chief Forensic Pathologist Darryl Garber determined Dau died of heart disease with a contributing factor being acute drug intoxication from the multiple medications she was prescribed. Garber also discovered Dau had a bed sore on her lower back, suggesting that she had been unable to move for some time.

Later, according to the minutes from a meeting about Dau’s death, CFMG and jail staff decided that an ambulance should have been called and that Dau was “probably” going through Valium withdrawal.


CRUCIAL BILL TO CLOSE A LEGAL LOOPHOLE AND EXTEND BENEFITS TO “DUAL STATUS” FOSTER KIDS MOVES FORWARD

A CA bill to give foster kids involved in the juvenile justice system (often called “dual status” or “crossover” youth) extended foster care benefits was approved unanimously by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

SB 12, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would close a loophole in existing law, and ensure kids who turn 18 while in juvenile detention receive extended benefits like their non-justice-system-involved peers.

Sawsan Morrar has more on the bill and its progress for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

DeAngelo Cortijo, an intern at the National Center for Youth Law, spoke at Tuesday’s hearing about his firsthand experience as a crossover youth. Cortijo was removed from his home when he was two after his mother attempted suicide. He was placed with family members, and at one point returned to his mother, before he was sent to foster care amid reports of abuse. Since then, he was in over four detention facilities, and ran away from group home placements several times.

“When I was released, I faced many challenges,” Cortijo said. “I now have to fend for myself as an adult. I had to find stable and clean housing. I didn’t have an income to support myself.”

Cortijo was left depending on others for the most basic needs like purchasing a toothbrush or borrowing socks.

“Do you know what that does to a person’s confidence? It completely destroys it,” he said.

With extended benefits in place, Cortijo would have received about $800 a month, just like other transition-age foster youth, to help pay for food, housing and school.

Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center, said these probation youth in transition are exactly who extended foster care aims to support.

“We know that the rates of homelessness, unemployment and incarceration for young people who cross from dependency to delinquency are double to triple the rates for youth who are just in dependency or delinquency,” she said.

According to the Youth Law Center there are approximately 4,000 probation-supervised foster youth in California. There are over 50,000 foster youth in the state.


WHAT IF PRESIDENT OBAMA FOLLOWED IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF FDR AND WILSON AND USED HIS PARDON POWER ON MARIJUANA OFFENDERS?

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, bringing the total number of approved commutation petitions up to 89. While this is a good step in the right direction, there are 95,265 federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses.

The Atlantic’s Zach Hindin makes the case for presidential pardons for all marijuana offenders in federal prison. Former President George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences and pardoned 189 during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton commuted 61 sentences and pardoned 396. Our current president has granted just 64 pardons, thus far. (If you are fuzzy on the difference between the two, a pardon wipes a person’s criminal record and restores rights, a commutation shortens a person’s sentence, but does not offer a clean slate.) Obama’s latest move seems far less historically meaningful when compared to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s thousands of post-prohibition acts of clemency for alcohol offenses, says Hindin.

Here’s a clip:

…Compared with the last few administrations, commuting the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders may seem historic. But history sets the bar higher still.

In May 1919, Woodrow Wilson was in Paris negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. It’s hard to think of a moment when any president had a better reason to shelve domestic affairs, but on Monday, May 12, Wilson telegraphed his secretary in Washington: “Please ask the Attorney General to advise me what action I can take with regard to removing the ban from the manufacture of drink.” A week later Wilson sent another cable, this time to Congress: “It seems to me entirely safe now to remove the ban upon the manufacture and sale of wines and beers.”

Congress declined, and instead introduced a bill to shore up the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Volstead Act. Wilson vetoed the Act. Congress overrode his veto. With no legislative recourse, Wilson chipped away at Prohibition using the executive power that Congress could not check: his pardon. By the end of his second term, alcohol offenders accounted for more than one-fifth of Wilson’s clemency recipients.

Unlike Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been ambivalent about Prohibition. During his time in the New York State Senate, the powerful Anti-Saloon League had praised Roosevelt’s “perfect voting record.” Even after the repeal of Prohibition became central to his presidential platform, according to one biographer, “the story persisted that whatever Roosevelt might say, there was a voting record to prove he was ‘dry’ at heart.” But when Prohibition was repealed by popular demand in 1933, FDR went on a pardoning spree that outclassed his predecessors, approving alcohol offenders who had been previously rejected or otherwise hadn’t even applied.

Wilson used his pardon to protest an impossible law. Roosevelt used his to acknowledge the change in social norms.

The time when most Americans condoned alcohol consumption despite Prohibition rhymes with our own, when 53 percent of the country supports the legalization of marijuana, and pot laws have been curtailed in 23 states and the nation’s capital. And just as Prohibition offered a legal apparatus for racism, today, the racial imbalances in marijuana arrests and sentencing are so stark that many in this country consider them a proxy for racial control. In 49 states, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana—in the worst offending counties, by a factor of eight. The limit of this analogy is scale—together, Wilson and Roosevelt issued some 2,000 alcohol-related acts of clemency. In 2012 alone, almost 7,000 people were convicted in federal courts for marijuana offenses, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, more than for any other type of drug.


LA SHERIFF JIM MCDONNELL TALKS JAIL ABUSE AND MORE ON WHICH WAY, LA?

After 10 jail employees were relieved of duty this past weekend in connection with alleged jail abuse, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss jail abuse, transparency, mental illness, and his hopes for the facility that will replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail.

Take a listen.

In another segment, investigative reporter Jeffrey Sharlet talks about his in-depth GQ story about the March LAPD shooting of Charly Keunang, an unarmed homeless man in Skid Row, and the unreleased officer body cam videos he was able to watch of the incident.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF TROUBLING FOOTAGE OF OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS…FAMILY OF UNARMED MAN KILLED BY GARDENA POLICE SEEK CIVIL RIGHTS INVESTIGATION

In 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, an unarmed man they mistook for a robbery suspect. According to officers involved, Diaz Zeferino appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The city settled the resulting lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but refused to release videos of the shooting, because of privacy concerns.

On Tuesday, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city of Gardena to release the videos. And at a press conference on Wednesday, an attorney representing Diaz Zeferino’s family called for a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Here’s a clip from the KPCC update:

Mercardo said the videos allow the public to see for themselves what took place shortly after police stopped Diaz Zeferino and two others suspected of stealing a bike.

“The public can be the judge of what really happened that night,” she said, adding the family had been searching for justice, not money.

Diaz Zeferino’s brother, Augustine Reynoso, holding aloft a picture of the two of them embracing, said he wanted to bring the Gardena police department to account for the death of his brother.

“Money is not what’s important in life. Life is what’s important in life,” he said through Mercado, who translated his comments. “I want justice to be done. I want the Gardena Police Department to be investigated more deeply. That’s why I’m here.”

Posted in Crossover Youth, DCFS, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, Marijuana laws, medical care, Mental Illness, Obama, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

LA’s Top Cop and Former CA Senate Prez Awarded for Mental Health Efforts, and NYC’s Bail Reform, and LA’s Crime Rates

July 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY AND FORMER SENATE PRO TEM DARRELL STEINBERG AWARDED FOR MENTAL HEALTH WORK

LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and former CA Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg were honored on Thursday by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for their efforts to decriminalize mental illness and to boost community-based support and programs available to LA and CA’s mentally ill and their families.

DA Lacey founded the Los Angeles County Criminal Justice Mental Health Project, the goal of which is to divert the mentally ill from jails, and established alternative courts for non-violent offenders. Read more about Lacey’s work.

Lacey says she is grateful for the award, but that there is still “a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that the mentally ill can receive the care they need” and called the use of jails as de facto mental health institutions “inefficient, ineffective, and…inhumane.”

On the legislative side of things, former Sen. Steinberg authored and pushed a number of bills to improve mental health services and to keep people suffering from mental illnesses off the streets and out of jail in CA:

*Passage of Proposition 63, the 1% “millionaire’s tax” that funds innovative mental health programs and has provided over a billion dollars per year for mental health initiatives.

*Establishment of the Steinberg Institute for Advancing Mental Health Policy, after leaving the legislature, to help build a comprehensive network of community services and supports.

*Provision of prevention and early intervention services through schools, community centers and faith-based organizations.

*Legislation targeting resources to people with mental illness who are at greatest risk for hospitalizations, homelessness or incarceration.


On Wednesday, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s office announced an important new citywide initiative to put people on supervised release when they can’t afford to post bail.

The program will use $17.8 million in city funds and asset forfeiture money to help 3,400 poor people waiting to be charged. The bail alternative will allow participants to remain with their families and continue to work. The mayor is requesting proposals to contract pre-trial supervision.

Kalief Browder’s tragic suicide drew public attention to the issue. Browder spent three years on Rikers Island, the majority of which he spent in solitary confinement, without a trial because his family could not post $3,000 for his release.

De Blasio says it is “unacceptable” that “people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose.”

The Marshall Project’s Alysa Santo explains why the mayor’s program would not have done anything to help Browder. Here’s a clip:

The program would more than triple the number of defendants in pretrial supervision, rather than have them languish at the city’s main jail at Rikers Island. An impetus for the change, city officials said, was the recent suicide of Kalief Browder, who was held at Rikers for three years and released at age 19, when prosecutors dropped charges. Browder, who endured abuse and long stints in solitary confinement, was initially jailed because his family could not afford his $3,000 bail. He was 22 when he killed himself last month.

But Browder would not have been eligible for the city’s new pretrial supervision program because he was charged with second-degree assault, a violent felony, among other charges, for stealing a backpack. Under the expanded pretrial program, judges can place those charged with nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors under supervised release, which monitors defendants, rather than leaving them to struggle to come up with bail, as thousands of people do every year. “If bail is not met right away, then those kids are on a bus to Rikers,” said Browder’s attorney, Paul Prestia.

The city estimated the new bail system will allow about 3,400 people to be diverted into pretrial supervision programs at any given time. “This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Peter Goldberg, executive director for the Brooklyn Bail Fund, an organization that raises money for indigent misdemeanor defendants. “But this does not fix New York’s broken bail system,” said Goldberg, because about 45,000 people are detained in New York City each year over their inability to make bail. “For those who don’t fit the city’s criteria, such as Browder, their poverty alone is still going to incarcerate them.”

In California, AB 109—also known as realignment—meant that certain convicted felons were funneled to the county jails to serve out their terms, rather than state prison. The resultant increase in jail populations should have sent counties scurrying toward bail reform, and a system of risk-informed pre-trial release. After all, statewide, unsentenced individuals comprise over 60% of the jail population (some say more like 70%).

Plus, as part of AB 109, the state legislature gave the various county boards of supervisors the power to vote to give the sheriff of their county the legal ability to do risk-based pretrial release.

Some counties, like Santa Cruz, embraced the opportunity to pair down their nonviolent non sentenced jail inmates through a well-planned system of pretrial release.

Other counties, like Los Angeles, have done…well, not much.


EDITORIAL: WHAT’S BEHIND INCREASED CRIME RATES IN LA?

LA’s crime rates shot up during the first half of 2015 following more than a decade-long decline. Aggravated assaults jumped 26.3% over 2008, there were 20.6% more violent crimes overall, and the number of shooting victims increased by 18.5%.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti said that, in addition to current nationwide tension between law enforcement and communities, Prop 47—which reclassified certain non-violent drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors—could not be ruled out as possible reasons for the unusually high crime rates.

An LA Times editorial questions whether it might be due to the fact that the county has been lagging on using state realignment funds to expand reentry and treatment services to help former offenders stay out of lock-up.

Here’s a clip:

…it’s hard to see the connection between the non-arrest of drug users and the uptick in domestic violence, rape and other violent crimes.

Asked at a news briefing Wednesday whether he believed Proposition 47 was a mistake, Garcetti answered only by saying that funding for treatment and other programs — which, under the ballot measure, is to be distributed to local governments only after a year’s time — ought to be in place before penalty reductions.

In a perfect world that might well be the case. But as the state legislative analyst noted in February, the reduction of those six felonies offers immediate savings in reduced workload to counties — to prosecutors, to public defenders, to jailers. That’s money that could be spent on treatment and other programs right away.

Garcetti’s neighbors up the street, in the county Hall of Administration, also did a notoriously poor job of making use of new funding for treatment and anti-recidivism programs when it became available under a previous law change, AB 109′s public safety realignment in 2011. They only now have begun readjusting their workload and budget to expand such programs. It would be a shame — in every sense of the word — if the increase in crime were due in part to inaction at the county level and poor coordination between the county and the city.

Posted in District Attorney, LAPD, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 4 Comments »

Protecting CA’s Foster Kids….Investigating OC District Attorney and Jailhouse Informant Practices….LAPD Chief Must Answer Ezell Ford Questions….and the LA Supes Take Power from CEO

July 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA AUDITOR SEZ STATE SOCIAL SERVICES SHOULD DO MORE TO PROTECT FOSTER KIDS, AND IS HEMORRHAGING MILLIONS OF $$

The California Department of Social Services is not doing enough to protect vulnerable foster kids from sexual exploitation and may be spending millions placing kids with more expensive foster care agencies instead of licensed foster family homes, according to a report from the California State Auditor.

The report says that while Social Services has made some progress, it has not fully implemented recommendations from a 2011 Auditor report regarding the same issue. One of the major recommendations was to start comparing addresses to ensure that registered sex offenders were not living or working in foster homes.

The Auditor’s latest report said that Social Services took two years to start checking the sex offender registry against the addresses of group homes and foster families and, among other methodology problems, the department could not initially provide the Auditor with documented outcomes on 8,600 investigations out of 25,000 address matches, and 422 address matches were not investigated within a 45-day deadline.

When the addresses of sex offenders and foster kids appear to be the same, it sometimes turns out that the sex offender is actually a foster kid, or that there is no longer a foster family or group home at that address. But for the times when investigators find sex offenders among foster kids, either the sex offender is removed from the house, or the foster children are removed. Sometimes facilities lose their licenses.

The new report also said that California counties are still too often paying foster family agencies that privately recruit and certify foster homes and cost over $1000 more per month, rather than giving state-licensed foster homes and relative caregivers priority when placing kids. The report recommends revising the fee structure for agencies, and giving other foster care placements higher priority.


OUTSIDE COMMITTEE WILL INVESTIGATE HOW OC DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE USES JAILHOUSE INFORMANTS

Following string of informant-related scandals that resulted in the unraveling of a series of cases, the Orange County DA’s Office announced the creation of an independent panel of retired judges and lawyers to investigate how the DA’s Office handles in-custody informants. (Here’s the backstory.)

Committee members include retired OC Superior Court Judge Jim Smith, retired LA County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Dixon, former OC Bar Association President Robert Gerard, and Blithe Leece, an attorney specializing in ethics law and professional responsibility.

The Informant Policies and Practices Evaluation Committee (IPPEC) is expected to submit their findings at the end of 2015.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

In March, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed the district attorney’s office from the Scott Dekraai murder trial after finding prosecutors failed to turn over jail records about informants to Dekraai’s public defender.

Dekraai, 45, pleaded guilty last year to killing eight people at the Salon Meritage hair boutique in 2011.

It’s not illegal for law enforcement to use informants or jailhouse snitches. But they must act as a listening post and not elicit statements or question an inmate once he has exercised his right to an attorney.

A jailhouse informant recorded conversations with Dekraai about the killings, but after Dekraai had been charged and had obtained legal representation…

[SNIP]

The DA’s office said in a statement that it has already made some changes to avoid similar abuses in the future, including updating its informant policy manual and creating an internal committee headed by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to approve or disapprove the use of jailhouse informants.

In addition to those moves, “I think it’s important to have an objective and expert external committee with different points of view, to thoroughly review and analyze the issues regarding the use of in-custody informants so we can improve our procedures and avoid any future mistakes,” Rackauckas said in the statement.

The committee will issue a report by the end of this year, according to the DA’s office.

“I want everything that we do to be above board and fair,” Rackauckas told KPCC. “I want to make sure that the court, the defense bar, the individual defendant and the public have faith – that although we’re aggressively prosecuting cases – we’re doing it in a fair way.”


FED JUDGE SAYS LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK MUST ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT EZELL FORD SHOOTING

A federal judge ruled Monday that LA Police Chief Charlie Beck will have to answer questions in a formal deposition from the family attorney for Ezell Ford, an unarmed, mentally ill man who was fatally shot by LAPD officers last year.

Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle’s ruling comes after LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the LA Police Commission came to very different conclusions regarding whether the officers acted within department policy when they shot Ford.

(If you missed it, you can read the backstory here.)

The Associated Press has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Magistrate Judge Margaret Nagle found Ford’s shooting was conspicuous enough that Beck should speak to contradictory findings about whether it was within policy.

Last month, the Los Angeles Police Commission found that officers had no reason to stop and question Ford, and that a violation of department policy led to an altercation that ended with Ford’s death. Beck has said the officers in the shooting acted appropriately.

“This is not the ordinary case,” Nagle said. “It’s a high-profile, high-visibility case, and whether the policy of the policymaker — the police commission — is being enforced or implemented appropriately, I think is something on which Chief Beck can, and in this case should, be questioned.”

[SNIP]

In August, Los Angeles police Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas decided to stop Ford because he appeared nervous and was walking away with his hands in his pockets, according to a report by the police commission.

Wampler said he thought Ford might have been hiding drugs and told him to stop for questioning. The officers said Ford looked in their direction and walked away quickly with his hands in his waistband area.

A struggle ensued when Wampler tried to handcuff Ford, who knocked the officer to the ground and grabbed for his gun, the officers said. Villegas fired two shots, and Wampler said he pulled out a backup gun and shot Ford in the back.


LA SUPES TAKE BACK POWER FROM COUNTY CEO’S OFFICE

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to take away the county Chief Executive Office’s power to hire and fire (non-elected) county department heads, returning the power to the board. The Supes gave these powers to the CEO in 2007, along with day-to-day management of county departments, in response to complaints that the board was too involved in the minutiae of the departments it oversaw, but have spent much of those eight years clashing with the CEO.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip (we are giving you a bigger clip than usual because it’s an interesting tale):

The change back to a weaker executive has many wondering whether the supervisors’ new power will result in more streamlined, decisive management or simply create more meddling by the elected officials and politicize the workings of government.

“In the short term, there will be a lot less conflict between the supervisors and the CEO’s office,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. “The question is what’s it going to do for the daily operations… They won’t know when they’re too involved. They’ll think their involvement is just right. The other shoe to drop is how will it affect everybody else’s ability to do their job?”

Tuesday’s vote represents a reversal for the Board of Supervisors, which in 2007 gave the unelected chief executive officer more powers, including day-to-day management responsibilities and the authority to hire and fire department heads with board approval. Those changes were sparked in part by complaints that the supervisors were micromanaging the departments and giving conflicting marching orders, and that there was no single leader to hold accountable for the success or failure of initiatives.

The results have been mixed. An assessment by a county advisory commission in 2008 found that the stronger chief executive officer structure had increased collaboration between departments, but had also slowed down work in some cases by adding another layer of bureaucracy. The commission found that it also had increased tensions between the supervisors and the top administrator. Three years later, the board took back control of the probation department and Department of Children and Family Services, criticizing the chief executive officer’s handling of the agencies after a series of scandals.

Former Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, who had supported the stronger chief executive officer, said weakening the role now may be largely symbolic, because the board never fully gave up its hands-on role in agency operations.

“Everybody meddled. We all meddled, one way or the other,” Molina said.

Yaroslavsky agreed that board members had continued to micromanage — even going as far as having their aides ghostwrite recommendations that were supposed to be coming from department heads. He added that some initiatives were stalled because of power struggles between supervisors and the chief executive.

Yaroslavsky is now advocating for an elected county executive, a proposal that has not found support among the current board members.

“Outside of the former Soviet Union, Los Angeles County is the only … 10-million-resident government that ever ran by committee of five,” he said.

On the other hand, instead of going into micro-management, some have suggested that one alternative to taking the power away from the CEO is hire a CEO that they liked and respected a bit better than they did the former CEO William Fujioka.

Posted in Charlie Beck, District Attorney, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, Orange County | No Comments »

Playwright Takes on School to Prison Pipeline… LAT Calls for Real Oversight of the LASD… .LAPD Praised for Handling of Mentally Ill…Update on SB 124, Juvie Solitary

July 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



RENOWNED PLAYWRIGHT ANNA DEAVERE SMITH TURNS HER CREATIVE FOCUS ON RACE AND THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE

Playwright/actress Anna Deavere Smith has never been one to be scared off by complex subject matter.

When Smith premiered Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, her searing and revelatory one woman play about the aftermath of the Rodney King verdicts—first performing it in Los Angeles in 1993, then a year later in New York—reviewers fell over themselves praising the work. At the same time, they also argued with each other about whether Smith’s creation was really theater, or some strange new kind of journalism.

The confusion had to do with the fact that Smith had gathered the material for the play that would make her a critical success by interviewing nearly 300 people, many of whom had some direct connection to the riot, some of whom did not. Then, from those interviews, she shaped monologues for more than 40 “characters,” real people whom she inhabited on stage, one after the other, with eerie accuracy.

The parts she played included former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates, a south LA teenager, one of the members of the Rodney King jury, a Beverly Hills real estate agent, a former Black Panther party head now living in Paris, truck driver Reginald Denny, the widow of a Korean American grocer killed during the madness, a pregnant cashier hit by a random bullet who managed, against odds, to save herself and her baby—and several dozen more.

All of this came together to produce what NY Times’ theater reviewer David Richards called, “an epic accounting of neighborhoods in chaos, a city in anguish and a country deeply disturbed by the violent images, live and in color, coming over the nightly airwaves.”

Now, 22 years later, Smith is working on another play that makes use of her signature form of documentary theater to illuminate another crucial cultural moment. (Smith has authored around 18 of these documentary plays thus far.) The new play, which has the working title of “The Pipeline Project,” investigates what the playwright describes as “the school-to-prison pipeline—the cycle of suspension from school to incarceration that is prevalent among low-income Black, Brown, Latino, and Native-American youth.”

As she did with Twilight, for the last year or so, Smith has been interviewing hundreds of people including students, teachers, parents, police, thought and policy leaders, psychologists, community activists, heads of prisons, people who are incarcerated, kids in juvenile hall, public defenders…and many more, as she fashions her theatrical characters.

Smith said that she got the idea after educators and reformers approached her to see if art could affect policy change. And so: The Pipeline Project.

Most recently, she has been performing pieces of the work-in-progress at select regional theaters in Berkeley, CA, Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA. Then after each performance, Smith engages in an extended dialogue with the audience, sort of town hall meeting style, all of which she uses to continue to recalibrate her material.

Eventually Smith will have a full length theater piece, that she’ll debut around the country.

In the meantime, Californians will have the opportunity to see the work-in-progress version starting this coming Saturday, July 11, when Smith will begin previews at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. This pre-play play will run through August 2.

Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle talked to Smith while she was in rehearsal for her Berkeley opening, about what she wants from this part of the process, and from the Pipeline Project as a whole.

Here’s a clip:

“This is one of those rare moments when people do begin to think about race relations in this country,” Anna Deavere Smith says over the phone from Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where she’s in rehearsal for the premiere run of her latest solo piece. The new work, with the complicated but accurate title “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter” is about the treatment of African American and other disadvantaged youth in our schools and what’s increasingly being called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I started thinking seriously about these matters in 2010, and I started my work, my interviews in 2013,” Smith says. “A lot has happened very quickly in this country during that time. … You can’t really think about inequities in education without looking at the broader canvas of racial inequity in America. And you can’t think about school discipline without thinking about the ways in which the types of discipline that are of greatest concern mimic some of the practices in prisons.

“So it’s a problem, and it’s an opportunity. I did my first staged readings of this piece here at the Rep last July and left town and — boom! Ferguson. And just since then, because of technology, Americans have watched any number of bad interactions between authority and young African American males, and these videos have taken the country by storm and have caused a lot of people to go, ‘Wait. What? Something’s going on here about men of color. What is this? Wow! Whoa! No! How could that happen?’”


Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter: Previews begin Saturday, July 11. Opens July 14. Through Aug. 2. $25-$89. Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949. www.berkeleyrep.org.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD LOOKS AT HISTORY & CALLS FOR REAL OVERSIGHT OF THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

The LA Times editorial board has called for a civilian commission with teeth before, but this time the board lays out the absolutely dismal history of attempts to oversee the department, all of which have failed utterly.

Let us hope the LA County Board of Supervisors are paying attention.

Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County has a commission created more than a half century ago, that is tasked with monitoring jail conditions and holding government accountable for improper treatment of inmates. As reports circulated in recent years of inmate beatings and abuse at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, the Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections failed to find or act on the pattern of brutality that has resulted in the county paying millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements, the resignation last year of Sheriff Lee Baca the indictment this year of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka (among others), the convictions of several deputies for obstruction of justice, and the ongoing criminal investigations into inmate mistreatment. It instead reported accomplishments such as commending the sheriff for his cooperation during jail inspections.

Following reports of numerous improper uses of force by deputies more than two decades ago, the Board of Supervisors hired special counsel Merrick Bobb, who regularly reported on problems in the jails and elsewhere in the department; but the board, distracted by other emergencies and concerns, took little action on Bobb’s recommendations. The board abolished his office just over a year ago.

In 2001, in response to concern that abusive deputies were not facing meaningful discipline, the county created an Office of Independent Review to provide civilian oversight of the discipline process. But in order to get access to confidential sheriff files, the office agreed that such documents would be privileged, and in so doing it became in essence the department’s attorney, and wound up providing in-house advice rather than actual oversight. That office, too, was abolished last year.

Those efforts illustrate the two primary avenues of failure in oversight of the sheriff’s department. The supposedly independent overseer either is absorbed into the sheriff’s world, as with the Office of Independent Review, or becomes an agent of the Board of Supervisors, ineffectual like the Sybil Brand Commission or else too easily ignored, given the board’s many duties and political pressures, like the Office of Special Counsel.

There is an urgent need for a new model that does not replicate those that so utterly failed during the jail abuse scandal. The oversight body must have sufficient independence from both the board and the sheriff, sufficient access to department documents to perform its task, sufficient standing to apply political pressure in cases when the sheriff refuses to cooperate, and sufficient professionalism and restraint to avoid becoming a runaway tribunal.

To design such a model, the Board of Supervisors appointed a panel to consider various possibilities and make recommendations. The Working Group on Civilian Oversight completed its report late last month. It falls woefully short.


LAPD’S MODEL MENTAL HEALTH UNIT IS THE NATION’S LARGEST

While, it doesn’t magically solve every single problem, with 61 sworn officers and 28 mental health workers, the Los Angeles Police Department’s mental evaluation unit is the largest mental health policing program of its kind in the nation and, by all accounts, it’s doing a lot of good, both in helping take the pressure off patrol officers while, most importantly, aiding in productive and appropriate resolutions, rather than harmful outcomes, for the city’s mentally ill.

According to LAPD spokespeople, the unit has become a vital resource for the city’s 10,000-person police force.

NPR’s Stephanie O’Neil has a good new story on the unit and how it functions.

Here’s a clip:

Officer Ted Simola and his colleagues in the unit work with county mental health workers to provide crisis intervention when people with mental illness come into contact with police.

On this day, Simola is working the triage desk on the sixth floor at LAPD headquarters. Triage duty involves helping cops on the scene evaluate and deal with people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

Today, he gets a call involving a 60-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia. The call is typical of the more than 14,000 fielded by the unit’s triage desk last year.

“The call came out as a male with mental illness,” says the officer on the scene to Simola. “I guess he was inside of a bank. They said he was talking to himself. He urinated outside.”

If it were another department, this man might be put into the back of a police car and driven to jail, so that the patrol officer could get back to work more quickly. But LAPD policy requires all officers who respond to a call in which mental illness may be a factor to phone the triage desk for assistance in evaluating the person’s condition.

Officer Simola talks to the officer on the scene. “Paranoid? Disorganized? That type of thing?” The officer answers, “Yeah, he’s talking a lot about Steven Seagal, something about Jackie Chan.” Simola replies, “OK, does he know what kind of medication he’s supposed to have?” They continue talking.

The triage officers are first and foremost a resource for street cops. Part of their job entails deciding which calls warrant an in-person visit from the unit’s 18 cop-clinician teams. These teams, which operate as second responders to the scene, assisted patrol in more than 4,700 calls last year.

Sometimes their work involves high-profile interventions, like assisting SWAT teams with dangerous standoffs or talking a jumper off a ledge. But on most days it involves relieving patrol officers of time-consuming mental health calls like the one Simola is helping to assess.

The man involved in this call has three outstanding warrants for low-grade misdemeanors, including public drinking. Technically, any of them qualifies him for arrest. But Simola says today, he won’t be carted off to jail.

“He’ll have to appear on the warrants later,” Simola says, “but immediately he’ll get treated for his mental health.”


AMENDMENTS TO JUVIE SOLITARY BILL DON’T SWAY CRITICS

The bill to drastically restrict solitary confinement for California ‘s locked up kids, has one more committee to make it through, and then it goes to the assembly floor and, if passed there, on to the governor.

The bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno, has tried to address some of the concerns of the bill’s opponents, with a set of amendments, but so far they’ve not done the trick writes Kelly Davis for The Crime Report.

Here’s a clip:

In response to opposition from county probation unions and California’s influential prison guard union, Leno has agreed to several amendments since the legislation was first introduced in February. The most recent amendment allows a youth to be confined beyond four hours if he can’t be safely re-integrated into the general population.

But the amendments have not appeared to sway the critics.

At the committee hearing, Craig Brown, a lobbyist with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, argued that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which runs California’s four juvenile correctional facilities, has implemented numerous reforms over the last several years, including significant reductions the use of confinement. In 2004, the DJJ, then called the California Youth Authority, entered into a consent decree with the Prison Law Office after documented cases of young people being kept in solitary confinement—sometimes in cages—for 23 hours a day.

Leno’s bill would add another layer of regulations and “mess up all that progress” Brown said.

There are currently no laws governing the use of juvenile solitary confinement in California.

The lack of regulations has played a role in at least four lawsuits-—the one filed against the Prison Law Office against the DJJ, and three subsequent lawsuits against county probation departments.


Posted in American artists, American voices, Inspector General, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 24 Comments »

Shuttering LA’s Troubled Youth Welcome Center, Reforming LASD’s Antelope Valley Stations, For-Profit Policing in CA, and Pat Nolan

June 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SHUT DOWN THE LA COUNTY YOUTH WELCOME CENTER, A WAREHOUSE FOR HARD-TO-PLACE FOSTER KIDS, SEZ A SPECIAL COMMITTEE

A new report headed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors says the county must shut down operation at its Youth Welcome Center, which has become an ill-equipped warehouse for kids, thanks, in large part, to a lack of available homes for foster kids.

The Youth Welcome Center, opened in 2012 (video above), originally intended as a place to house kids new to the system for 24 hours while social workers found them foster parents or group homes. Instead, the center, located at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, has come to serve as a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids, the ones who caregivers send back, like older teens, LGBTQ kids, and those suffering from mental illness.

The report, which will come from a committee formed by the Supes, recommends creating a 30-day emergency shelter for these kids, while also beefing up the number of group homes.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf, who has been reporting on the ongoing troubles at the Youth Welcome Center, has the story. Here are some clips:

The centers are allowed to keep children for only 24 hours and are not licensed for the lengthy stays some of the youths endured. They lack sufficient bedding, bathrooms and showers, as well as mental health and the education professionals necessary to meet their needs.

Over time, the number of youths without a proper foster home grew. It the last year, there were 800 violations of the 24-hour rule at both welcome centers, a county commissioner said.

Following The Times report, state officials in April took a harder line and sued the county, pushing the centers to comply to the letter of state law. The county and state reached a settlement agreement the same month and agreed to begin the licensing process to bring the existing facilities up to the state’s standards.

These changes would include establishing facilities at the centers that provided the required amenities and opportunities so young people could be legally housed there for up to three days.

[SNIP]

Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed law firm for foster youths, said that the DCFS plan to solve the centers’ problems by establishing a three-day facility is insufficient.

“For the hardest-to-place youth, I’m skeptical that we will do much better in 72 hours than what we do in 24. We will once again be in the position where we are just looking for a bed — any bed” to move a child out of a welcome center, she said.

Both she and the commission’s report recommend more sweeping change, including vast improvement in the inventory of foster homes and a 30-day emergency shelter. Only more ambitious reforms such as those, she said, “will ever solve the revolving door” of children failing to find lasting foster homes and repeatedly returning to the welcome centers.


LANCASTER & PALMDALE SHERIFF’S STATIONS MAKING MAJOR ANTI-BIAS REFORM PROGRESS AFTER US DOJ INTERVENTION

Advocates say the Los Angeles Sheriff’s stations in Lancaster and Palmdale are making huge strides to eliminate racially discriminatory practices that led to federal intervention.

In April, the US Department of Justice and LA County agreed on a court-enforceable settlement to reform the Lancaster and Palmdale stations. The settlement followed two years behind a 46-page “findings” letter from the DOJ detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) Antelope Valley residents. There are 150 requirements that the department must meet to fulfill the terms of the settlement.

One of the advocates who brought allegations to the feds, Miguel Coronado, says discriminatory drug raids on people receiving subsidized housing assistance and other racially biased practices have all but vanished.

The Associated Press has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Coronado, who sits on Lancaster’s planning commission, was among those who brought allegations of racially biased policing in the area to federal authorities. He now has the cellphone numbers of high-ranking sheriff’s officials on his speed dial — and he says they pick up when he calls.

Residents rarely call him anymore to complain about the department, when he used to get several complaints a day, he said.

The settlement approved in April came less than two years after federal prosecutors identified a pattern of discrimination that included unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and excessive force against blacks and Hispanics in Palmdale and Lancaster.

Deputies harassed and intimidated blacks and others in public housing, showing up for inspections with as many as nine officers, sometimes with guns drawn, the Justice Department said in its June 2013 report.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang broke this story.


EDITORIAL: CA LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES SHOULD TAKE A HARD LOOK AT QUOTAS AND OTHER PROFIT-MAKING POLICING ACTIVITIES

A San Diego Union-Tribune editorial says California Highway Patrol’s monthly goals regarding the number of “enforcement contacts” made seem dangerously similar to quotas. For California law enforcement agencies, implementing quotas for arrests and citations is illegal.

It’s not just a CHP problem. LAPD motorcycle officers have successfully sued the city over arrest quotas. Law enforcement agencies should look closely at practices and policies, like quotas and civil asset forfeiture, that value profit and punishment over public safety, says the editorial board. Here’s a clip:

Under questioning from attorneys for Harrison Orr – a Citrus Heights man who won a $125,000 judgment – CHP motorcycle Officer Jay Brame testified that he has for years been admonished by his CHP superiors to have at least “100 enforcement contacts” a month while on patrol duty. This testimony has been backed up by Brame’s formal performance reviews, which criticized him for “enforcement contacts” that were “well below the shift average.”

It is illegal under state law for law-enforcement officers to be given quotas for arrests and/or citations. The CHP flatly denies it has quotas for its Sacramento bureau or anywhere in the state. But pressing officers to meet numerical goals on “enforcement contacts” certainly seems problematic. And the fact that it is far from the first time that police agencies in California have faced such allegations provides crucial context. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has repeatedly been successfully sued by its motorcycle officers over arrest quotas set by their superiors.

This practice is dubious in many ways, starting with the fact that it creates incentives that make an officer’s job more about punishing drivers and collecting fines than about maintaining highway safety…


RECOMMENDED READING: PAT NOLAN, FROM TOUGH-ON-CRIME LEGISLATOR, TO INMATE, TO POWERFUL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM ADVOCATE

The New Yorker has an excellent longread profile on Pat Nolan, a former California Republican Assemblymember who, after being busted in a federal racketeering sting, had a very personal wake up call about the state of the nation’s criminal justice system. Nolan’s whole world (and perspective) was turned upside down. He spent 25 months behind bars, and then four months in a halfway house, during and after which, he became a vehement advocate for reform. Nolan is now the Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Project at the American Conservative UnionFoundation, and partners with the Texas-based Right on Crime group, and has had a hand in the passage of Prop 47, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and the reetry-focused Second Chance Act.

Here are some clips from the New Yorker story:

“I went to the legislature very pro cop and with a get-tough-on-crime attitude,” Nolan told me. He wanted to reinstate the death penalty, which the Supreme Court had temporarily suspended. He believed that the exclusionary rule, which disallows evidence improperly obtained by the police, had become a loophole that lawyers exploited to allow guilty clients to go free. He excoriated a colleague in the assembly for proposing a law that would extend workers’ compensation to inmates injured in prison labor programs. And he was a leading sponsor of a prison-building boom in the state, which included, to his eventual regret, the Pelican Bay supermax facility, where inmates are kept in long-term solitary.

The F.B.I. sting, he says, dispelled his unconditional faith in law enforcement. In Nolan’s telling of it, trophy-hunting agents browbeat his aides and his campaign supporters to build a case against him, leaking tidbits to the press in the hope of breaking his resolve. The prosecutor loaded the charge sheet so heavily that Nolan concluded that he couldn’t risk going before a jury. Like roughly ninety-five per cent of people convicted in America, he pleaded guilty and took a lesser sentence rather than take his chances at trial. He began to wonder how many of the people he had dismissed as bad guys had simply succumbed to prosecutorial bullying. He said, “I saw that the F.B.I. and the government prosecutors weren’t interested in the truth, and that was a shock to me.”

By the standards of American incarceration, Nolan had it easy. He served twenty-five months in two prisons that housed the least menacing felons. The Federal Prison Camp at Dublin, near San Francisco, was a compound of former Army barracks surrounded by landscaped flower gardens. There was a small coterie of white-collar criminals, but the majority of the inmates were blacks and Latinos serving time for relatively minor drug convictions. Nolan helped organize religious-study groups, and—to judge by his accounts in an unpublished memoir—he treated his fellow-inmates as a constituency to be charmed. (He still corresponds with some of them.) From prison, Nolan produced a chatty newsletter that his wife, Gail, distributed to some two thousand supporters. He had regular visits from his family and a loyal band of political friends. After ten months, he was transferred to Geiger Corrections Center, near Spokane, where the supervision was even less oppressive. Still, his time in prison exposed him to what he came to see as the cynical cycle of American justice: sweep up young men, mostly from broken families in underprivileged neighborhoods, put them away for a while, send them back onto the streets with no skills, and repeat. To call this a “corrections” system seemed a sour joke.

“I had assumed they did all they could to help prepare the guys to return to society and make a better life,” Nolan told me. “But they were just warehousing them.” There was a pervasive sense of defeat. “The implication is: you’re worthless, you come from nothing, you are nothing, you’ll never be anything.” He added that when prisoners were released the guards would say, “See you in a few months.” He was surprised, too, at the number of elderly and infirm inmates. In his memoir, he wrote that “incarcerating people who aren’t a physical threat to society is expensive and counter-productive”—something that “only a nation that is rich and vindictive” would do.

Nolan was still an inmate when he ventured into the politics of reform. In 1994, in the California Political Review, he published an attack on that year’s crime bill—President Clinton’s signature contribution to mass incarceration, which earmarked $9.7 billion for prisons, imposed tougher sentences, and, among many punitive provisions, eliminated college grants for prison inmates.

[BIG SNIP]

There are whole areas of policy where bipartisan consensus remains far out of reach. Guns, for starters, are untouchable. (Norquist likes to provoke liberals with the creative theory that the crime rate has fallen because more Americans have concealed-carry permits.) For most Republicans, outright legalization of drugs, even marijuana, “is one we can’t touch,” Nolan says. The idea of restoring voting rights to ex-felons, which has the support of Rand Paul and Nolan as well as Bernie Kerik, appeals to many Democrats but terrifies most Republicans. “They have this image of hordes of criminals” flocking to the polls to vote for Democrats, Nolan said. Conservatives tend to look more favorably on privatizing prisons, prison services, and probation, a scheme that liberals view with deep distrust. The death penalty, which divides the right, is not on the shared agenda.

The most significant question is whether conservatives are prepared to face the cost of the remedies, from in-prison education and job training to more robust probationary supervision and drug and mental-health treatment. Joan Petersilia, a criminologist who teaches at the Stanford Law School, points to the last great American exercise in decarceration, half a century ago: President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act, which aimed to reduce by half the number of patients in state mental hospitals. The promised alternatives—hundreds of community care facilities—were never fully funded, and thousands of deeply troubled people were liberated into homelessness. The mentally ill now make up a substantial portion of inmates in state prisons and county jails.

“The direction forward is not really clear, because, on the one hand, the right is saying less government, less spending,” Petersilia told me. “And the left is saying we need more investment.” She offers the example of California, which for nearly five years has been under a Supreme Court order to cull the overcrowded prisons that Nolan once helped build. “The success story of downsizing prisons in California is like nothing the nation has ever experienced,” she said. “We have downsized in less than five years twenty-five per cent of all prison populations. But look what is happening at the local, community level, which is that they’ve upsized jails, and they’ve got a homeless population, they’ve got police officers complaining about the mentally ill. We didn’t answer the question: if not prisons, what?”

Nolan agrees about the cost of alternatives: “In each of the Right on Crime states, we have insisted that a large part of the savings be put back into the system.” As for his home state, Nolan says, “we were not a part of that mess.” Nolan thinks that Governor Jerry Brown failed to plan adequate prison alternatives because “he just wanted to get the court off his back.” When conservatives did venture into California, last November, to help pass Proposition 47, the measure required that two-thirds of any money saved be funnelled into alternative correctional programs. Nolan said, “Conservatives have insisted that money be plowed into services because we know that just releasing prisoners or diverting them from prisons without services would increase crime.” That is true, but it tends to be relegated to the fine print in conservative reform literature. The headlines promise tremendous savings to taxpayers.

Nolan has another worry: that one sensational crime, or a spike in the crime rate, or the distraction of more polarizing issues could send Republicans and Democrats back to their corners. “We’ve all said we’re one bad incident away from having this erode on us,” he said. But if the bipartisan movement can accomplish the things it agrees on, Nolan has a wish list of additional reforms that he will pitch to conservatives. He would like to see abusive prosecutors lose their licenses. He would require the police to videotape interrogations from beginning to end, not just a confession that may have been improperly extracted.

And, mindful of the prisoners who have been exonerated while waiting on death row, he would like to end capital punishment.

Posted in Department of Justice, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, racial justice, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Right on Crime, The Feds, War on Drugs | No Comments »

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